The Focus on our Humanity
The article that I set out to write, is a very different piece than the article I find myself called to write today.
I had planned to talk about how despite coronavirus-related cancelations, summer fun isn’t ruined. It hurt my heart to see how deeply losing those events was leading to comments about “ruined” summers.
Then George Floyd was murdered by the very people sworn to protect him, and the narrative changed. I still feel deeply that summer fun isn’t canceled because of coronavirus…it just looks different than it did 6 months ago. However, writing about summer feels insincere, without first addressing what really matters… a focus on our humanity.
I want to be very clear. This is not about politics, it’s about human rights.
The last few weeks have been eye-opening. I have begun the process of unlearning a lot of what I have known and the lessons society taught me, and I feel called to start speaking up.
I am not from Green Bay or even Wisconsin. I went to high school in one of the most diverse districts in the nation, though not the most diverse school in the district, and not in the most diverse city. Moving here has been an adjustment…particularly seeing some of the stories of overt racism PoC (persons of color) experience here daily. I’m not saying it didn’t happen in Anchorage, in fact, I’m learning more and more about experiences my friends had that they didn’t talk about, but what I’m seeing here seems more aggressive. (Admittedly, it’s not a scientific poll, just my overall impression.)
Regardless of where I live, I’m starting to get a clearer picture of the systemic racism in our country. It’s not enough to say “all people are created equal,” we must start to truly believe it. And that comes from understanding where we come from, and where we would like to go.
For many years, I did not understand the privilege that my skin color granted me…
…that although my life has not been unicorns and rainbows, it was not made harder by the color of my skin.
And I think for many white people, they hear white privilege and they think “my life isn’t easy, I’ve gone through hardship” and dismiss the idea. “Privilege” being the word that they focus on, not the full wording. Understanding white privilege goes deeper…and admittedly, I will never understand fully the experiences of black women and men, but I am starting to see how our experiences are different.
The first time I really saw racism in action was 17 years ago.
I spent 6 months in Costa Rica and went up to Nicaragua with some friends for a long weekend to travel and explore. The border crossing was a breeze for everyone in our group except one…he was dressed so much more nicely than the rest of us…but as a person of color, the son of Guatemalan diplomats, it took much longer, and he got the 9th degree.
I was outraged with my friend, who was embarrassed and uncomfortable. Yet I didn’t understand.
Even 5 years ago, I didn’t understand…despite some of my close friendships.
I am starting to understand, although I know I’m barely scratching the surface.
Here’s the thing, it’s not that all lives don’t matter. Literally no one is saying that when they say Black lives matter. Unfortunately, until our country understands at a visceral level that black lives DO matter, not every life matters.
Until every mother can not be terrified that the very act of leaving the house will not be the last thing their child does.
Until every person can get stopped for a traffic violation and not be in fear of their life.
Until we can trust that the people tasked with protecting us will protect everyone equally.
Only then can we all be on truly equal footing. And, until then, we cannot stop advocating for what is right. We cannot stop advocating against racism.
No wonder there is so much anger. No wonder there is so much fear and dissension. There are all kinds of things I have taken for granted my whole life. I know I still have a long way to go…most white people do. So let’s do the work we need to learn how we can make sure that everyone has the same privileges.
So how do we get to the other side?
It’s not as easy as a policy change, although I believe that’s an important step. I think it starts by being willing to listen and learn…and unlearn what we know. We must commit to having more conversations that are uncomfortable, to really listening to other people’s experiences, and learning how to be there for one another.
I recently read a quote that I cannot find, but the gist of it is that the true sign of humanity is being willing to change our opinion when new information is presented. I believe that is our job as a country, as a state, as a county, and most importantly, as individuals to learn more about things that feel uncomfortable, like white privilege, and then do the work to make sure
In the end, we must commit to focus on what really matters, to focus on our humanity, and I believe that is committing to seeing every other person’s humanity in every conversation.
We’re going to make mistakes. We’re gonna screw things up. But if we’re working together towards making things better, then that is what matters.
More from Erin: Rising Above the Anxiety and Mom Guilt